The Importance of Family Meals
Diana Dickinson, RD | March 11, 2019
**Having regular family mealtimes is important to improve children and youth's mental health and well-being. So we want to give you a break and treat you and your family to a night out at your favorite family restaurant! Visit our facebook page for details!**
March is a month of great opportunity, hope, and intrigue. With Spring just around the corner, and daylight savings already begun, the days start to seem just a little bit longer and full of anticipation for the potential of sunny and warm weather to come. There is great variety in March, with an equal likelihood of a forecast for windstorms, torrential rain, hail, or gorgeous sunshine…perhaps all in one day! Families may continue to savour the last days of the ski season, paired with a warm hearty chili, or enjoy the upcoming opportunity of beach walks with simply packed picnic fare.
March also happens to be Nutrition Month, and 2019’s theme focuses on: “Unlocking the Potential of Food.” As a Dietitian working in mental health, I am particularly interested in the sub-theme of the “Potential of Food to Bring Us Together.”
Family meals offer an incredible array of potential. When families dine together there is an excellent opportunity to connect and learn over a shared experience. This experience may solely be during the eating stage of a family meal if dining out; or additionally, the preparation and clean up phase if the meal is created or consumed at home. Eating together provides a time where family members can talk and connect about their days, share interesting thoughts and ideas, and create positive memories associated with time spent together enjoying food.
Eating meals together can help to provide an opportunity to learn about family customs and traditions, new foods and flavor combinations, methods of food preparation, and mindful eating principles. Eating out together can be an opportunity to explore more varied cuisine or to focus on the enjoyment of each other’s company after a busy time period. Many families protect their established meal times together by designating the time as “technology free”, without distraction from cell phones, computers, or television. This choice can help to ensure that family members are fully present to participate in conversation or activities together during the meal.
In order for family meals to be enjoyable and balanced they do not need to be: expensive, time consuming, elaborate, or always novelty seeking. A rotation of regularly made and enjoyed family meals can help to save time in the preparation phase and keep stress levels lowered while still providing good nutrition. Batch cooking and freezing leftovers can allow for an amazing meal to be prepared in just a few minutes. Simple and quick to prepare meals can often be the family favorites. Adding some candles, light background music, or a table cloth can make these meals feel even that much more special… but the décor, presentation, or food itself does not need to be a “Pinterest-level” masterpiece to be enjoyable. The idea of “perfection” in regards to a meal, snack, or way of eating can be described to be “pure-fiction.”
Just like meal combinations, families and family members are available in various permutations. Eating together, whether it is with one other person, or ten other people, can be considered a family meal and can allow for positive experiences with food to develop. If you or your loved one has symptoms of or has been diagnosed with an eating disorder, meal times can often be a stressful or isolating experience. An established routine and structure with the focus on meal support being about completing a meal or snack together in a timely way can be an important step in the journey towards healing of the body and the mind.
There is great potential through shared experiences over meals to gain a balanced relationship with food. Sometimes meals will be about nutrition for healing, recovery, and growth. At other times meals will just be about having what’s easy, available, or needs to be used up in the fridge. Oftentimes, meals and food will be about enjoyment, celebrations, and culture. Opportunities to appreciate the art and science of cooking will arise with even the most basic food preparation.
As you continue your journey with planning, preparing, or attending family meals, try to treat the journey as you would the month of March and the more turbulent weather that it can bring. Expect that there will be calm days, action packed days, and days that re-route direction several times. Your family meals may need to adjust accordingly to “the weather” of your family schedule, but take the opportunity to enjoy what the variety of eating opportunities brings in terms of balance to your family overall.